SEC Preview and Predictions: Week 1

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Last year’s record: 54-16 (77.1%)

Although the world isn’t quite back to normal yet from the effects of Covid-19, at least the SEC football schedule is. Our 2020 record was a very respectable 54-16 given there were no cupcake out-of-conference games sprinkled in to pad our weekly success rate. This year, those games are back, but so are some intriguing interconference games like LSU-UCLA and Georgia-Clemson.

FLORIDA ATLANTIC at FLORIDA
The Gators are in for a modest rebuilding effort in 2021, and this game will be a soft open in advance of the actual dinner rush. The Owls, in their first year of the post-Lane Kiffin era, went 5-4 in 2020, losing their last three games but being competitive in each. They aren’t terrible but they shouldn’t challenge the Gators, either. Florida has to figure out an offensive identity quickly, and will use this game to do just that.
Florida 48
FAU 14

ALABAMA vs. MIAMI (Atlanta, Ga.)
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GEORGIA vs. CLEMSON (Charlotte, N.C.)
Georgia’s hardest regular-season game by far will be its opener. Clemson is replacing Trevor Lawrence at quarterback and some other key pieces as well, while Georgia returns QB J.T. Daniels and a solid running back group. The Tigers are expected to rely mostly on defense, although the running game should be solid and new QB D.J. Uiagalelei got valuable experience last year when Lawrence was briefly unavailable due to injury. Georgia needs to prove its new receiver corps is capable of keeping defenses honest. If the Bulldogs get past Clemson here, it probably clears the deck for an undefeated run to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
Clemson 27
Georgia 21

LOUISIANA-MONROE at KENTUCKY
ULM was arguably the worst team in FBS last year, going 0-10 and unable to threaten anyone offensively. The Warhawks then proved themselves to be a balanced team, failing to stop anyone on defense. Whatever happens against Kentucky, the one certainty is things can’t get much worse. Kentucky has high hopes in 2021 thanks to a solid, balanced roster and some expected backsliding on the part of Florida. Struggling in this opener would raise a lot of uncomfortable questions.
Kentucky 52
La.-Monroe 6

CENTRAL MICHIGAN at MISSOURI
Central Michigan played only 6 games in 2020, all against other MAC opponents, and went 3-3 in the process. The Chippewas will make a nice opening game for Missouri, not too difficult and not too much of a pushover. The Tigers could be a quiet contender for second place in the SEC East depending on how quickly the new defense comes together, as well as whether the Tigers can find an answer to replace departed talents in the running game.
Missouri 47
C. Michigan 21

EASTERN ILLINOIS at SOUTH CAROLINA
Camp injuries, especially at quarterback, are threatening to derail South Carolina’s season before it even gets started. We’ve seen FBS upsets before, especially in the early part of the season, and at times specifically involving the Gamecocks. Having said that, this should be one of the few comfortable games for South Carolina on the year provided the defense isn’t too terrible in the back end. South Carolina’s quarterback situation this week has been a train wreck, though, and don’t be surprised if this game end up closer than expected.
South Carolina 27
E. Illinois 17

BOWLING GREEN at TENNESSEE
The Falcons didn’t win a game in 2020 and head coach Scot Loeffler is on the hot seat. The good news for Loeffler is he’s facing a Tennessee program that hasn’t been able to get out of its own way for most of the past decade. Josh Heupel needs a big win in his debut to get the Vol program off the ground, and he’s likely to get just that, as Bowling Green’s offense was dysfunctional the last few times out. If this game is even close, Heupel’s honeymoon could be short.
Tennessee 45
Bowling Green 10

EAST TENNESSEE STATE at VANDERBILT
This could be a long year in Nashville, as the Commodores just don’t have the talent to compete in a high-level FBS environment. ETSU shouldn’t threaten them, however, and everyone can feel good about themselves for at least one week before the beatings commence.
Vanderbilt 38
ETSU 13

RICE at ARKANSAS
Rice had an odd year in 2020, going 2-3, but those two wins were over respectable programs (Southern Miss, Marshall) and the Owls gave up only 6 points total in those games. Defensively, Rice was solid overall, so Arkansas could wind up getting more of a test than the Hogs might have bargained for. Arkansas should still win this game – Rice’s offense was impotent in 2020 and Arkansas’ front seven will be one of the best the Owls will see in 2021 – but the Razorbacks can’t just put it on autopilot.
Arkansas 34
Rice 10

AKRON at AUBURN
Auburn faces the Zips in its opener. What chance does Akron have here? Zip.
Auburn 45
Akron 7

LOUISIANA STATE at CALIFORNIA-LOS ANGELES
This game got a whole lot more interesting after UCLA dismantled Hawaii in its Week 0 opener. And in case anyone had forgotten, the Bruins are coached by Chip Kelly, whose career was somewhat pushed off the track in the last decade, but he hasn’t forgotten how to coach. LSU has had a lot of distractions this week, as the Tigers’ home territory was mangled by Hurricane Ida. You wish LSU could get a week off to collect its thoughts, but unfortunately the game doesn’t work that way. LSU should bounce back after a difficult season in which Ed Orgeron basically spent 12 months on cruise control and didn’t manage his program; the Tigers simply have too much talent to continue to struggle. UCLA was 3-4 in 2020 but lost those four games by an aggregate 15 points. Don’t look for LSU to roll in this one.
LSU 37
UCLA 35

LOUISVILLE vs. MISSISSIPPI (Atlanta, Ga.)
How this game rated a neutral site in Atlanta is anyone’s guess. Ole Miss was an offensive firebrand in 2020 but couldn’t stop anyone; Louisville was more competitive than its 4-7 record suggested, but had trouble stopping the run. Look for improvement from both programs during the 2021 season, but Ole Miss simply has too many weapons for the Cardinals to stop.
Ole Miss 50
Louisville 33

LOUISANA TECH at MISSISSIPPI STATE
Louisiana Tech finished 5-5 in 2020 but any time the Bulldogs went up against quality opposition, they got blown out. Mississippi State isn’t a worldbeater, but MSU is certainly quality opposition in Louisiana Tech’s world and even with Mike Leach struggling to get his Air Raid offense off the ground, he should be able to lead his Bulldogs to a comfortable win over the Louisiana-based Bulldog group.
Mississippi St. 38
La. Tech 17

KENT STATE at TEXAS A&M
If you had Kent State as your answer to the question “Which FBS team ranked 1st in total offense in 2020?”, take a bow. While the Golden Flashes played only four games, they went 3-1 in those games, scoring an average of 49.8 points per game in them. Having said that, Texas A&M isn’t going to confuse KSU with Alabama anytime soon. Kent State’s best win was the one with the lowest output, 27-23 over Eastern Michigan. The Golden Flashes won’t come close to threatening the Aggies.
Texas A&M 55
Kent State 20

Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN

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